HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016)

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I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER (2016)

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Horror/thriller is based on the first book of the same name from Dan Wells’ trilogy about sociopathic teen John Wayne Cleaver. Fifteen year-old teen John Wayne Cleaver (Max Records) is currently being treated by a therapist (Karl Geary) for having homicidal thoughts. Not helping John is that he lives and works in his mother’s (Laura Fraser) mortuary and is surrounded by death on a daily basis. He sets up rules to control his urges, despite being fascinated with death and serial killers, but things take an odd turn when people in his small Midwestern town start showing up dead. John becomes obsessed with the case and sets out to find who this serial killer is…and his first suspect may be his kindly old neighbor Mr. Crowley (Christopher Lloyd). Is John over-imagining things due to his dreary obsession, or has he found real evil in his sleepy little town?

British/Irish flick is directed by Billy O’Brian with the book based script written by he and Christopher Hyde. It is part horror, part mystery and part character study as we watch a boy investigating the very type of activity that he struggles with himself not to commit. It is an interesting study of an interesting character as John fights with his inner dark urges and by contrast sees death everyday working with his mother and now by pursuing a killer. It is offbeat and intriguing and O’Brian avoids a lot of clichés by not making this a straight up serial killer thriller, but from the view of someone who might be one in the making, himself hunting another. A sort of teenage “Dexter” if you will. There are some brutal and disturbing moments and the film only stumbles a bit when it’s reveal conjures something far less grounded than we expected from the tone of the film up till that point…though it is effective and the film does come to an appropriately suitable conclusion that fits the story and direction it took. It just was a bit off-putting that the film’s killer is something a bit more supernatural when the film seemed to be examining the evil’s that men do.

The cast are all good. Records makes an intriguing and odd youth in his John Wayne Cleaver. He is certainly not your normal kid and he knows it. He knows there is something wrong in his head and the young actor portrays well the conflict and effort to avoid becoming something he already has shown great potential in being. The fact that he pursues another “like” personality seems, at first, to be more out of curiosity than to battle evil. Laura Fraser is solid as John’s single and hard working mother. She conveys well the frustration of loving her child yet knowing he is a bit unstable and has urges that could turn dangerous. Christopher Lloyd is a veteran actor and gives the old neighbor Crowley a nice sympathetic touch so we find it hard to believe that this kindly old man might be a monster on the inside. Solid acting from supporting cast members as well.

I liked this movie, though didn’t quite love it, despite a novel premise. It features a sociopathic lead who is fighting to control his own homicidal urges while pursuing someone else who is giving in quite brutally to theirs. The reveal kind of switches the focus to something more supernatural, when the film seemed to be telling a more grounded story and that is a bit off-putting. Director and co-writer O’Brien does recover and ends the film appropriately and effectively. Recommended, but just go in without grand expectations.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 scalpels.

harvest rating

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: PET (2016)

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PET (2016)

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Flick tells the grim tale of Seth (Dominic Monaghan), an introverted and emotionally disturbed young man who works at an L.A. dog pound. Seth sees pretty blonde Holly (Ksenia Solo) on the bus everyday, a girl he has been crushing on since school. Holly doesn’t remember him, but he pursues her anyway even when she shows no interest. He follows her to work and when she goes out and when he is finally, and quite harshly, rejected for his stalker-ish behavior, Seth hatches a plan to kidnap Holly and hold her in a cage in an abandoned room beneath his work place. But Seth may be in for more than he bargained for, as Holly is not what he expects and has a few dark secrets of her own. Seth soon finds out that while Holly may be in a cage, he may not be as in control as he believes.

Directed by Carles Torrens from Jeremy Slater’s script, this is a tense, disturbing and sometimes surprisingly brutal thriller about a damaged young man taking the wrong girl captive. The concept of a kidnap scenario going awry or a hostage being more than one bargained for is not new, but it is presented well here, with a few twists of it’s own and thus works beyond it’s familiar story. At first we are led to believe this is a simple tale of a pretty girl in the clutches of a deranged individual, a tale of mad love, but Torrnes slowly let’s us see that Holly is not a helpless damsel. In fact she has some loose screws of her own and Seth’s purpose of bringing his object of affection here may have a deeper agenda than just puppy love beneath the dog pound. We get a reveal halfway through that takes this in another direction and totally changes our perception of Holly quite a bit. It turns this into a something far more complex than simply an innocent hostage trying to outwit her crazed captor. Let’s just say things get delightfully nasty and leave it at that.  There are a few plot holes, such as Seth actually thinking holding her captive at work was a solid idea and a few others that involve sensitive plot developments, that will not be spoiled here. Otherwise, all the way through this self advertised ‘love story’ director Torrens keeps an atmosphere of tension and there are some disturbing developments that change our perspective and possibly our sympathies. It’s a disturbing little thriller that succeeds far more than it doesn’t.

We have a small but very effective cast, especially our leads. Dominic Monaghan does a difficult job of keeping Seth a bit tragic and sad despite his disturbing plot to kidnap his obsession. His early pursuit of her is a bit creepy but also earns some sympathy at his complete awkwardness. Once he accomplishes his deed, he keeps Seth from being totally villainous though still quite disturbed. He’s not quite an outright monster and when the tables start to turn we are not completely unsympathetic at the desperate young man having made a big mistake. Ksenia Solo really shines as Holly with a decidedly more complex character. At first she is just a pretty blonde with her own life and no time for Seth’s awkward pursuit. She is in the midst of a break-up herself and this only amplifies the effect of his creepy methods to get her attention. We like and sympathize with her, especially when she finds herself in a basement cage. Then the actress slowly transforms Holly into someone else. Someone we are not expecting and someone who is possibly far scarier than Seth. He is socially inept and emotionally disturbed as she where might just be…? Solo pulls it off wonderfully. There is also a supporting roles by Jennette McCurdy as Holly’s friend Claire and Da’Vone McDonald as Seth’s co-worker Nate who starts to get suspicious of Seth’s odd behavior and showing up at work at off hours.

So, the flick is not perfect and the story at it’s core has been done before. But this is a case of a skilled director and some unexpected twists from it’s writer that elevate it above the familiar. Add to that, two leads who really give it their all and you have a disturbing thriller that can be surprisingly brutal and brutally surprising despite a familiar base story. It’s a psychological showdown between two individuals, one who is disturbingly obsessed and the other…well, you’ll find out.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 cages that are not the best way to impress a girl.

pet-rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: SESSION 9 (2001)

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SESSION 9 (2001)

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Chilling tale tells the story of a crew of hazardous material removal workers who get a contract at a long closed state hospital for the mentally ill. Each man already has his own drama, but as they continue to work strange things start to happen effecting each one. Is it the hazardous materials they work with?…have the spirits of this forgotten place come out of hiding…or is one of their number coming unglued?

Written and directed by Brad Anderson, who co-wrote with Stephen Gevedon, who also plays”Mike” in the film, this is an unsettling little indie that is subtly unnerving at first and then builds towards it’s disturbing climax. Anderson gives each of his men their own personal issues to start, such as boss Gordon (Peter Mullan) having problems at home with a new baby and his wife and Phil (David Caruso) dealing with co-worker Hank (Josh Lucas) having stolen his girlfriend away. This adds tension to the small work crew before any odd occurrences begin and gives us pause as to whether there is really something supernatural going on here. There are also a series of tapes that Mike uncovers detailing the sessions between a hospital doctor and a patient with multiple personalities and a dark secret. Each tape he plays brings us closer to finding out the secret of patient Mary and tears our crew a little further apart…until the climatic session 9. There is a surprisingly violent and bloody conclusion to all this, as up till now, the film has remained low key and if Anderson doesn’t quite spoon feed us all the answers, it only works to this spooky flick’s advantage. The use of the real life abandoned Danvers State Hospital in Massachusetts is also a big factor in creating atmosphere as the building is almost another character in the film and Anderson knows how to use his setting to maximum effective. The low budget flick is shot well by Uta Briesewitz and has an effective score by Climax Golden Twins. Not perfect, but a solid little thriller that gets under the skin.

Anderson has a good cast to work with aside from his impressive setting. Veteran actor David Caruso is solid as Phil. He is already on edge with having to work with a man who currently sleeps with his ex-girlfriend and when things start to get weird, it only adds to an already existing tension and Caruso plays it well. Peter Mullen is also good as Gordon. Gordon has a sick newborn to deal with and the sleepless nights are taking their toll both at home and at work. When things start to happen at the hospital, it further negatively effects a man who is already unraveling. Mullen plays this slowly fragmenting man very effectively. Co-writer Gevedon is convincing as Mike, who is very interested in the hospitals past, especially the therapy sessions of the mysterious patient Mary Hobbs (voiced by Jurian Hughes). Rounding out is Josh Lucas as Hank, who is a bit of a jerk and a thorn in Phil’s side and Brendan Sexton III as Gordon’s young nephew Jeff, who is afraid of the dark. There is also a cameo in the last act by Larry Fessenden, before he became an indie flick icon.

I like this little flick. It is slow paced, but that is deliberate as it is more of a slow burn towards it’s unnerving climax. Anderson uses his creepy real-life setting to maximum effect and keeps us guessing as to whether it is supernatural or psychological, as to why things spiral out of control for these men. Not a great movie, but a very effective one with a good cast and a great location.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 dust masks.

session 9 rating

 

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MOCKINGBIRD (2014)

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MOCKINGBIRD (2014)

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POV horror flick has three groups of people, a couple (Todd Stashwick and Audrey Marie Anderson), a college student (Alexandra Lydon) and a slacker (Barak Hardley) still living with his mom, getting cameras sent to them with the ominous message to keep filming or someone will die. More messages and packages are sent, as the couple and the student are threatened and tormented, while Leonard is told to put on a clown suit and go on various tasks…of which he is gleefully happy to do. Whoever this manipulator is, they are playing a dangerous game with an  ulterior agenda that will bring all three subjects together…and probably not in a good way.

Flick is written and directed by Bryan Bertino for Blumhouse and is fairly entertaining. It may not be anything new, but it does generate some chills, as our couple and student are being tormented by this mysterious person/persons and some laughs with the far too giddy to cooperate Leonard. They are trapped inside their homes with the threat of death looming and it is kind of creepy as they are manipulated slowly and gradually, till finally instructed to leave and head to a specific address on Mockingbird Drive. The cast members all do well in portraying their fright, or in Leonard’s case their delighted compliance and that helps make this stay fairly entertaining for most of the running time. The film only really falters at the end and in more than one way. First, this is exactly where we figured this flick was going as bringing the characters together in a devious manner was obvious from the start. Another point is that after just over 80 minutes we realize that there isn’t much of a story here, once it predictably ends. The third and biggest problem is once we find out who is instigating this sadistic plan, it becomes obvious that they would not have had the resources and mode of travel to accomplish all that they do. Those responsible would have needed to get from place to place very quickly and have considerable capital to pull this off. Once you meet them, you realize it’s highly implausible that they could have authored all this by themselves and they appear to be acting alone. It’s supposed to be creepy, but our villains inspired more questions than chills, once finally unveiled. We are also never given a reason for all this, or any backstory as to who these people are, or why the victims are chosen, other than a vague but effective opening scene. The film works until it’s reveal, then it looses it’s grip as the creditability is strained a bit too much…aside from leading exactly where we thought it would.

Overall, I had some fun with this and it did have some spooky moments, some chilling scenes and some legitimate laughs when we follow Leonard. It works for most of the movie until it’s last scene reveal. Once we find out what is going on, we have serious doubts that they would have been able to successfully pull it off. It also ends as we knew it would with our victims. Not a bad flick for a night on the couch, but one that needed to be a bit more clever to keep belief suspended beyond it’s final moments.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 gift boxes

mockingbird rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE BOY (2016)

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THE BOY (2016)

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Supernatural thriller is OK, but could have benefited from a little more intensity, as it is a bit too laid back for it’s own good. Story finds pretty Greta (Walking Dead’s Lauren Cohan) traveling to the UK to get away from an abusive relationship and landing a job as a nanny for an elderly couple (Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle) at their large, secluded mansion…never a good sign. She is to watch their son Brahms while they are away on vacation. Greta soon finds that Brahms is actually not a living child but a creepy porcelain doll…another bad sign. As her stay commences, so do strange occurrences, such as things not being where she left them…especially Brahms. She soon discovers the real Brahms was a strange boy who died twenty years ago when he was only eight and might even have possibly killed a friend…internal alarms should be going off at this point. Does the boy’s spirit still inhabit the house and what does it want of Greta?…who, obviously stays.

Flick is well-directed by William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside, Wer) from a script from Stacey Menear and is filled with familiar tropes of similar flicks. These customary ingredients are sometimes used well here, as the film has atmosphere and there are some genuinely spooky moments, but it also fails to really grab us when it needs too. Sometimes Bell guides the proceedings a little too laid back and the film definitely needed more punch in it’s last act. It also loses some steam about two thirds of the way through, instead of picking up momentum which would have been better. It’s in it’s final reel that the film gets most cliché and even a little silly and that would have been fine, if Bell matched it with some real intensity and suspense. He doesn’t. We’ve seen it all before, when we get our big reveal and Bell could have given it far more impact to distract us from the familiarity. It’s not all that shocking when we learn the real secrets behind Brahms and his porcelain stand-in and with some solid suspense and a little more punch to the action, we could have overlooked it and had a better time. As it is, it’s just a routine conclusion to a fairly routine story and it needed a more inventive and gutsy touch to make it work. There is some great cinematography by Daniel Pearl and a spooky score by Bear McCreary to add atmosphere, but the film needs, for lack of a better word, more balls.

The cast are all fine. Lauren Cohan makes a really solid girl-next-door heroine and it’s too bad she’s not given more to do. After the first act her character starts to accept her situation and even takes a liking to the doll…which is a bit hard to swallow. That, of course, is fault of the script not the actress, who plays it well. Jim Norton and Diana Hardcastle make for a creepy old couple as The Heelshire’s. They don’t have much screen time, but are effective in what they do. Rupert Evans is charming as a local delivery man who takes a shine to Greta and Ben Robinson is OK as her generic abusive boyfriend, who we know from the start will show up at some point.

I was never bored here, but was never thrilled either. It was a moderately entertaining diversion with a likable heroine and did have some spooky moments. Overall, it felt like I’ve seen this movie before and more than once and director William Brent Bell didn’t help matters by giving the film a far too subtle approach and doing nothing really interesting with some very familiar plot elements. Worth a look if there is nothing else to watch, or you are a fan of Cohan.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Brahms

boy rating

 

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE BABADOOK (2014)

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THE BABADOOK (2014)

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The Babadook is an Australian horror film that has garnered quite a reputation online and I finally had a chance to catch up with it and am happy to report it not only lives up to it’s hype but, joins Oculus and The Town That Dreaded Sundown 2014 as one of the best horrors I have seen this year.

This very unsettling story, written and directed, by Jennifer Kent tells the chilling tale of Amelia (Essie Davis), a widow and single mother still traumatized by the death of her husband over 6 years ago. Making things harder on Amelia is that her son Sam (Noah Wiseman) has grown into a very strange and emotionally erratic young boy who is not only difficult at times, but, sometimes reminds the lonely woman a little too much of her husband. As her husband died in a car accident driving Amelia to the hospital to deliver Sam, the boy’s birthday brings back painful memories every year and his 7th birthday fast approaches. But, to complicate things even further, Sam begins to obsess over a scary children’s book called Mister Babadook and is insistent that the book’s supernatural fiend is after them. Stressed to the limits, Amelia begins to see the thing too. Is the emotionally strained woman loosing her mind… or are they actually being stalked by something not of this world that wishes both of them great harm?

Even without the supernatural element… if indeed there really is one… this would be a very spooky and disturbing movie. Kent skillfully paints a portrait of a woman on the edge from not only the emotional loss of her spouse, but, the increasingly difficult behavior of the only thing she has left to remind her of him, their son. And being reminded of him is not always a good thing and sometimes Amelia becomes resentful of Sam. The complicated emotions of dealing with a child whose birth is a constant reminder of a loved one’s death and who’s affections are sometimes misinterpreted and rejected by a woman who has been alone too long, are handled very effectively and I give Kent credit for tackling some of these sensitive issues head-on. Then we get the added element of the title creature, whose existence is constantly in question. Are they being stalked by a supernatural horror or is Amelia concocting a fiction villain on which to project her growing resentment and frustration with Sam. Jennifer Kent is not in a hurry to tell you and it makes the film all the more frightening as Amelia starts to unravel and becomes more aggressive towards her son and the appearances of The Babadook become more frequent and intense and yet, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined. Is she possessed by a supernatural fiend, or has she equated her son with the loss of her husband to the point of wishing the boy harm. Well… you’ll need to see the movie to find out but, it is an intriguing and sometimes downright scary journey either way, whether The Babadook is a real entity, or a figment of Amelia’s fragmenting emotional state. And Jennifer Kent takes us along for a very bone-chilling ride that builds steadily, suspense-fully and strongly to it’s nail-biting last act. On top of all this, Kent has a very gothic visual style brought to vibrant life by Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography and there is an atmospheric score from Jed Kurzel to add to the already strong atmosphere that Jennifer Kent maintains throughout the film.

As for it’s minimal cast, the effectiveness of this fright flick is enhanced further as Kent also gets a tour de force performance out of star Essie Davis. Davis is simply riveting as a woman who loves her child very much but, is being exhausted not only by his increasingly difficult behavior but, by the constant reminder that he is of the loss of the man she loved. She is downright frightening at times as she becomes increasingly unraveled and aggressive towards her son and whether it be supernatural influence or simply a woman loosing control, she is a powerhouse. Young Noah Wiseman is equally effective as Sam. This is an instance where a child character is supposed to be annoying, to illustrate how much his mother has to deal with by herself and being the only bread winner in the house, too. It is difficult to watch Wiseman’s Sam at times so, we understand how tough it is for his single mom to handle this emotionally challenged… and sometimes downright creepy… little boy. The young actor nails it but, also surprises us, too as when Sam comes to face and deal with a mother who may mean him harm when she comes under, what may or may not be, the Babadook’s influence. The supporting cast are all effective as well, but, it’s Davis and Wiseman’s show as the way.

I really enjoyed this flick, it was intense, faced down some very sensitive emotional issues, was downright scary at times and all within the framework of a film that was both supernatural horror and psychological thriller. Jennifer Kent keeps us guessing as to whether this is a scary tale of a malevolent entity or an equally frightening tale of a mother unraveling to the point of wanting to endanger her own child. I certainly won’t tell you which it is, but, I will say, that either way, you will be properly disturbed and chilled by the time the credits roll.

3 and 1/2 creepy kids.

babadook rating

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